Festival of seasons: from Germany to Duluth

20131123-101803.jpg Millions of people gather on bustling German streets, awaiting the big event.  The enticingly rich smells of mulled red wine and rum punch, roasted almonds, Nuremburg bratwursts, Gingerbread, and spices from vendors fill the crisp air, and this can only mean one thing: Christmas time is here again.

“Every year I visit friends and family in Germany, bringing special treats back with me,” said Heike McDonald, who grew up in Germany and after moving to Wisconsin 10 years ago. McDonald wanted to share this traditional German Christmas market, known as The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, with the Duluth community.

Christkindlesmarkt opens the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent, Sunday, Nov. 29 to Friday, Dec. 24, and is the biggest Christmas market in Germany. The first record of the Christkindlesmarkt dates back to 1628, and it has continued every holiday season since.  Local perseverance and pride keep the market strong, although struggles along the way,  McDonald feels motivated by it’s historical story.

Lois Hoffbauer, Chairman of the 3 Street Farmer’s Market in Duluth, supported the suggested idea from a fellow farmer and welcomed Heike to join the annual Festival of Seasons market.

The holiday themed festival in Duluth began in 2008 and is held in the third street market barn that is open to customers the entire weekend following Thanksgiving.  There are 25 local vendors (with this number growing annually) offering wholesome product selection.  McDonald, however, may be the most unique vendor at the market.


“Including individuals such as Heike is an honor for both me as well as the community,” Hoffbauer  said. “Heike brings a taste of Germany’s holiday culture along with fresh ideas for the market.”

German culture is clearly seen as one examines Heike’s booth. “Many locals are intrigued with my assortment of German spice mixes, strawstars, and smoking men,” Hoffbauer added. “They make great Christmas gifts, not often found in the mall,” said Heike.

But, the market is much more than a place to buy goods in Heike’s eyes.

“Once people hear my accent they ask me where I’m from…instant conversation starter,” Heike said.  “Over the years, I’ve heard so many stories about traveling, family histories, and quite a few people can speak German in this area.”

Christkindlesmarkets are a big deal in Germany, with much more emphasis put on these markets than on any type of shopping, such as Black Friday in the U.S.  Heike explained that keeping the local Christmas markets alive is important for society, as it creates a sense of community while embracing holiday cheer.

Helene Olaussen is a local from Norway who frequently visits Germany with her family in the month of December. Olaussen was asked if she thought authentic Christkindlesmarkts are beneficial to Duluth locals.

“These markets are not driven by flat screen TV’s and profits,” Olaussen said.  “I think diverse Christmas markets from any appropriate country would only bring positive effects.”

Duluth’s Festival of Seasons is quite similar to the smaller scale Christkindlesmarkts in Germany, minus the lack of fresh cooked foods like curry bratwurst, liver cheese, pickled fish in a bun and famous hot mulled vine.

“Vine is a red wine with aromatic spices and a shot of schnapps,” said Heike, smiling.  “It does a great job at warming you up.”  Attracting a varied crowd, all legal ages seem to approve vine.  Duluth’s festival will have to settle for homemade hot apple cider, for now.

Heike believes that the Festival of Seasons and local farmer markets alike would benefit tremendously from employing on-site food venues that could display the fresh produce available in the market in entrée form.  Specific vendors could be featured weakly in these venues and their products could be immediately tasted by market visitors.

Heike plans to expand her cultural Christmas touch both at the Festival of Seasons and at her own market over in the community gardens in Superior on the corner of Hammond Avenue and Broadway Street.  Her Christmas market opens two weeks after the Festival of Seasons and runs for two weeks after.

Her husband is a great help and because of his connections, Santa will be making an appearance at her market this year.  Both Heike’s festival and the Festival of Seasons are incorporating more diversity each year. This season, Heike said she is building “huts”, creating more of a “Christmas town” atmosphere.

“This year should be a fun one, everyone is welcome, and I think they will all enjoy my German holiday dreamland,” Heike said.

The Festival of the Seasons Duluth Farmer's Market is Saturday, Nov. 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., on the corner of 14 Avenue East and 3 Street.

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